Tuesday, March 04, 2008

They times they are a changing ...

I was at work this morning around 11am when the phone began to ring. I had the strangest feeling that it was the reporter from the local paper whom I spoke to on Friday afternoon, so it was no surprise when I answered and it did indeed turn out to be him. Strange how one gets this feeling sometimes ... Anyway, the reason that he was ringing was because they wanted to come and take some pictures of me with the stack of books to go in the paper with the piece that they plan to write!

He was hoping to come to the house on Wednesday, but unfortunately I will be at work. I have Thursday and Friday off though, so we have arranged to meet up on Thursday morning instead. It means that I will miss the deadline for this weeks edition, which comes out on Thursday, but it can't be helped, and actually gives me more of a chance to get into the following weeks edition anyway. They are quite willing to print my email and web address so that readers can contact me for their reduced price copies, so I think what I shall do to get the ball rolling is to offer a free copy to the first person to contact me and take it from there. Hopefully that will encourage people to contact me for what could be the read of their lifetime. I will see then what transpires.

Going back to the idea of fair trade for authors, noble as it may be, there is of course much more to fair trade than using sustainable paper and ink. The definition of fair trade is actually to ensure that those involved in the production as opposed to sale of goods, get a fair price and honest treatment. The crux of the matter is that in the majority of cases, when it comes to books, this just does not happen. The big five publishers still have a stranglehold over the market, dominating around 75 percent of it in fact, not just in Britain, but also in North America.

If one looks at the history of publishing, it was traditionally printers who were the publishers rather than these huge conglomerates, and they sold their wares direct to the book stores without all the middle men that we have today. The idea of sale or return did not exist, so the books either sold or stayed on the shelves until they did. Writers were paid fairly on books that were actually printed (i.e. that they had to pay for) rather than sold. The situation that I am in simply would not and could not have occurred. Sadly though, all that has changed.

My writing buddy from across the pond, Domenic Pappalardo writes, that there is a huge tax advantage to publishers with sale or return, as they can claim tax relief against these losses. This is not so for the author, who is left to pick up the pieces and carry the can. We even have situations where publishers are giving books away for free or as loss leaders (which amounts to the same thing anyway), as a form of advertising. The writer is powerless to do anything to stop this denigration of his or her work, which may have taken them years to complete, and which as a result of these actions, they will earn not one single bean from.

Left to their own devices it seems that the industry will not act honourably and do the right thing. It is then up to us as writers to do it for ourselves, and the only way to achieve this is through the Internet, which publishers now see, quite rightly, as the biggest threat to their livelihood. This is the real reason for the change of heart on their behalf and their softening attitude towards digitisation, not just in the form of e-books, but also through print on demand, for they realise that if they do not embrace these changes and run with the tide, then they will be swamped - it is a case quite literally, of sink or swim.

Everything though has it time and in a way, this is just another symbol of the rise in feminine power, as the old ways give way to the new. The old way of publishing is very tied up in the masculine, where the publishers had almost total control of the end product and how it was promoted and sold, the new way though where the author is in control is very much enmeshed in the feminine. This then despite the apparent chaos and all the challenges that it brings, is actually very exciting, for there has never been a better time to be self publishing.

There is a great feeling of anticipation in the air when you log on to any of the writers sites and forums to discuss these issues being battled backwards and forwards, which is fascinating to observe from a detached perspective. In five to ten years time, the industry will have changed almost beyond recognition as authors are the ones much more in control of their work and their destiny. You can see the signs everywhere you look, and even the book buying public acknowledge that change is needed, as today The Bookseller reports that the majority of people when asked, stated that writers should be paid fairly for downloading their work. What an exciting time it is then all round, and how pleased I am to be part of this revolution and to know that I and the company I chose to publish my book with, are at the forefront of this change.

1 comment:

Mick Rooney said...


Came across this on absolutewrite today and thought you might be interested. Not quite sure what all the beef is about, but seems to be something about Domenic's views on Dave K's P&E site. Will have a closer look at it.

Welcome back from Lundy.